Why Gen Edge Could End Up On the Leadership Struggle Bus

Our recently released 3G Report: Connecting With Three Young Segments in the Workplace has left many employers salivating over the next generation to hit the workplace: Gen Edge (aka Gen Z). People are suffering from a major case of Millennial fatigue and are ready to pin their hopes on a brand new, shiny generation. On top of that, many findings are indicating that Gen Edge may be the answer to front-line managers’ prayers in the following ways:

#1: The End of Job-Hopping

Edgers plan to stay with a single company longer than Millennials.

#2: Arrival of the True Digital Natives

Gen Edgers are tech-savvy on a whole new level.

But it's not just our research that's getting employers amped about this fresh new bunch of workers. Anecdotally, managers have told us that they love how Gen Edgers just put their collective heads down to get the job done. On the whole, they seem to be a more serious generation—less likely to while away the day chatting with coworkers or demanding foosball tables and bean bag chairs like their Millennial predecessors. We haven’t heard as many stories about teary Gen Edgers breaking down following a tough feedback session, and this generation is bringing back some of that independent spirit (courtesy of their Gen X parents) to get the job done without needing a support team every step of the way.
It sounds almost too good to be true: a flock of young workers ready to walk into your office, get loads of stuff done, and all without the annoying distractions? Yes, please!

Sorry to be the wet blankets/bubble bursters/party poopers, but it may not be all roses and sunshine with Gen Edge at work. As generational experts, we’ve seen this before. A new generation arrives on the scene, and people can’t wait to get them in the door. The problem is that employers are notoriously short-sighted when it comes to a new generation of employees. Managers get starry-eyed thinking about these kids' potential and the kind of leaders they might be when they move up the ranks. What they forget is that all that fresh talent comes with its own set of strengths, yes, but also a unique set of weaknesses.

When it comes to perceptions of leadership, there's one thing Gen Edgers share with their Millennial predecessors: they're already thinking about how to fast-track their way to the top spot, with 63% confident that they'll become a leader within five years (3G Report). While managers are chomping at the bit to start grooming this next generation of leaders, like with any generation, remember that Gen Edgers will have their own distinct challenges when playing the role of leader.

Here's why we think Gen Edgers might struggle when they finally test their leadership chops:

#1: They haven’t had a lot of practice leading.
Ask a Gen Edger what she did in her free time growing up and she might give you a confused look. Why? Because most of their time was not "free," but highly scheduled and structured. Most of them grew up going from one planned activity to another, all supervised by a coach or otherwise qualified “grown-up.” Very little time was spent playing a neighborhood pick-up game of capture the flag, and when they did have free time, it was mostly spent interacting with the myriad screens available to them.

Think about your own childhood. If you're a Boomer, Gen Xer, or even an Early Millennial, chances are you can remember playing baseball in your neighborhood. There were no adults around to determine the rules of the game. Like the young squirts in The Sandlot, you were your own bosses, made up your own rules, and because you ruled yourselves, natural leaders emerged. Some were labeled as annoying and bossy, others used their natural leadership qualities to motivate and craft the unbeatable team (like the unforgettable Benny, "The Jet"). These natural mini-leaders made mistakes, celebrated triumphs, and practiced their leadership skills in the low-risk environment of a baseball field.

Gen Edgers, on the other hand, haven’t had the benefit of this type of informal, low-stakes leadership practice. They're used to having roles assigned to them and clearly laid out without much ambiguity or room for interpretation. When they enter the workforce, many of them will be flexing those leadership muscles for the first time in a not-so-low-stakes environment.

#2: They have swapped out trophies for “likes.”
Everyone loves to make fun of Millennials for the 6th place trophies and the slew of participation ribbons they received in their childhoods. Ha. Ha. Yup. We get it. Hilarious. Because of those trophies and ribbons, Millennials expect positive feedback and even an “'A' for effort” after every workplace success. It's no surprise, then, that employers breathed a collective sigh of relief when they heard that participation awards have been on the decline. Gen X parents are teaching their kids that not everyone gets a trophy and that not everyone wins. Could it be that Gen Edgers won’t need that constant praise that Millennials have demanded?

Sorry to again be the bearer of bad news, but we fear this won’t be the case. In our 3G report, we found that 54% of Gen Edgers say that the thing they value the most from a boss is when “they encourage me” (versus 41% of older Millennials saying the same). Gen Edgers may not have received dozens of undeserved (and frankly unwanted) trophies growing up, but they've swapped that out for tens of thousands of likes, hearts, comments, and other social media pats on the back for doing something as simple as making avocado toast and Snapchatting it.

If they're used to constantly striving to get the most ‘likes’ from not only managers but also colleagues and peers, how will they go about making unpopular decisions? Making tough, sometimes unfavorable calls is something that often comes with the territory of leadership. When it comes to going against the popular vote, will Gen Edgers have the fortitude to make those tough calls, even if it earns them a sad face emoji?

#3: They struggle with in-person communication.
When asked which form of communication your generation struggles with the most, a whopping 74% of Gen Edgers said in-person communication followed distantly by the phone at 12% (3G Report). We get it. Gen Edgers are far more comfortable using technology to communicate, and honestly, there is often nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's part of what makes them so low maintenance to work with. They don’t need to spend your precious time discussing and brainstorming and collaborating, and they are much more comfortable sending a short text or email than interrupting you for a face-to-face meeting.

In the short term, this could be seen as a great thing. Gen Edgers are independent and ready to tackle their jobs without totally sapping your time and energy; however, call us old-fashioned, but we've yet to see truly effective leadership without a strong ability to communicate IRL (in real life, and by that we mean in-person). A generation who worries that they'll struggle with this type of communication could face some steep challenges as they rise in the leadership ranks.

Bottom line: there's still a lot we don’t know about Gen Edge. And we know even less about them as future leaders. Time will tell if our predictions play out as true or false, but the generationally savvy among you will know not to expect Gen Edgers to be the magical cure to all your workplace woes. Change is hard. Edgers will shake things up for the better, absolutely, but they won't come without their challenges in the upfront or when they step into leadership roles. How do you think Gen Edgers will stack up as the future leaders of the workplace?